It seems like forever ago since the Dolphins last took the field for a game. Yeah, I know it's only been about 10 days. But still, hasn't it seemed longer?
Luckily, the wait will be ending soon. So let's begin our look at Sunday's big game at Dolphin Stadium against the Chargers by discussing 5 key questions whose answers will go a long way towards determining if Miami can pull off the upset.
Will the Dolphins be able to establish the ground game early?
Without question, Ronnie Brown is the best offensive weapon the Dolphins have (which is what I've been saying since 2006). He must be fed the ball early and often on Sunday. There's no more "holding him back" while he recovers. He looks rather recovered to me. How about you?
Establishing the run early on in the game will allow the Dolphins to keep San Diego's high-powered offense off of the field and help the Fins win the "time of possession battle." That will be critical for the Dolphins because they simply can't afford to fall behind early. An established rushing attack with Ronnie, as well as Ricky Williams, should be enough to at least keep the Dolphins in the game well into the 4th quarter - which is what all Dolphin fans are hoping for.
Can the Dolphins continue their momentum on offense?
Last time we saw this Dolphins offense, they were gashing the Patriots for 461 yards of offense and 38 points. And, despite what the national media seems to think, this Miami offense was much more than just a "gimmicky Wildcat formation." The Dolphins also ran 51 "regular" offensive plays and gained 342 yards - a 6.7 yards per play average. So don't be fooled - the Fins were much more than a "gimmick" offense in their last game.
But will they be able to maintain this momentum after a bye week? They're likely going to have to. It's going to take 20+ points to win this game - especially when you consider how good this Chargers offense has looked through 4 games. Luckily, the Chargers' defense hasn't played well. They rank 28th in total defense, allowing 376 yards per game. They also rank 23rd in the NFL in yards-per-play allowed, giving up 5.5. Therefore, the Fins should have some opportunities. Now they just have to go out and make some plays.
Can the Dolphins get pressure on Philip Rivers?
This just in: Philip Rivers is good. He's 1st in the NFL in yards-per-attempt with 9.3, as well as 2nd in the league in both TD passes and QB Rating (trailing only Brett Favre in both). And he has some weapons around him that will make you pay if Rivers is given time to throw.
That's why the Dolphins must get pressure on the QB - just as they did last game against New England. Consider this: Rivers has only been sacked 6 times through 4 games. But 4 of those sacks came last week in the first 3 quarters of San Diego's game against the Raiders. Perhaps that is why the Chargers only had 3 points entering the 4th quarter last week. Oh, and Rivers had his worst game of the season against Oakland, throwing for just 180 yards and getting intercepted 2 times. Conclusion? The Dolphins front 7 must apply pressure to the immobile Rivers and make him uncomfortable all day long.
Will the Dolphins be able to get the tight ends involved?
Pop quiz! Name the leading receiver on the Dolphins after 3 games. Answer? Anthony Fasano, with 11 catches for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. Why is this relevant?
The Chargers have struggled against the pass despite having 3 very good cornerbacks. They rank dead last in pass yards allowed per game, with 276. The funny thing is that they have more trouble containing the opposing team's tight end than they do containing any other pass catchers. Against each of their 4 opponents' primary tight end, the Chargers have allowed 22 receptions for 296 yards and 5 touchdowns. And they also aren't to keen on defending their opponents' secondary tight end, allowing Justin King, Daniel Graham, and Chris Baker to tally 6 catches for 52 yards. So opportunities for Fasano and David Martin to make plays should be available. Now we just need to see if they are up to the challenge.
Can the Dolphins' special teams units step up and be "special"?
A great way to make things easier for the offense is to get some decent kick returns. Unfortunately, the Dolphins rank 30th in the league in kickoff return yards, averaging just 17.9 per return. They are slightly better at punt returns, ranking 12th in the league with a 9.6 yard average. Perhaps it's time to put Ted Ginn back as kick returner? I don't know. But they need to improve at some point in the return game.
However, a bigger issue will be how the Dolphins fare in limiting San Diego's dynamic kick returner, Darren Sproles. Sproles is currently 2nd in the NFL in yards per return on kickoffs (among those with more than 1 return), averaging 32.4 yards. And he's one of just 2 players to have returned a kickoff for a TD already, a 103 yarder earlier in the year. Even if you take away his one long return for a TD, Sproles is averaging 27 yards per return. He's the kind of game-changing, dynamic force in the return game that worries all special teams coaches. Will the Dolphins man up and contain Sproles? They'll need to if they want to pull this game out.
So those are my 5 "burning questions" for week 5. Tell us all what you think below...